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HALL: 1970s Legislature showed SD government can work the way it should

By Rod Hall

Rod Hall, Guest Columnist  Terry Woster’s interesting column about a divided house that still stood brought to mind a column by Woster that was published in The Daily Republic in January 2012. In that column, Woster describes his initiation into political reporting. It had to do with the controversial closing of the engineering school at South Dakota State University at Brookings.

Sen. Bibby, R-Brookings, was angry with any idea that hit so close to home. The Board of Regents, with some support from Gov. Kneip, was moving ahead. Woster got kicked out of an executive session that was dealing with the closure. However, the 1971 Legislature was rather open to the public.

The “Bibby Bill” made its way through the House and the Senate. It needed Kneip’s signature. Through incompetence, the wrong bill was placed before Kneip, who mistakenly signed it. This error became a huge issue and was amplified by the Republicans and turned into an embarrassment to the Democrats.

After a difficult first legislative session controlled by the Republicans, this was a big thorn in Kneip’s side. Worse still was it for Bibby, who now seemed, after winning his battle to keep engineering at SDSU, to have lost the war. Woster wrote then-AG Gordon Mydland, a Republican, stated that signing the wrong bill was “unprecedented in the state’s history.” Mydland said that in his opinion a bill signed by Kneip in error and signed by the officers of the Legislature became law. Mydland went further and said, “that anything signed by five men — the speaker of the House, presiding officer of the Senate, the House clerk, the Senate secretary and the governor — becomes law regardless of whether the Legislature as a whole approved it.”

Enter freshman Sen. Rodney Hall, D-Fulton. During his work as a Yankton principal under a superb superintendent, who was a Republican, he learned that a similar situation had taken place. It was former Gov. Archie Gubbrud who also had signed a wrong bill. That wrong bill was allowed to be law. Some schools were not willing to charge the 25 cents per day, and others did. Rep. John Buehler, R-Emery, wanted corrections; the Legislature acted but Gov. Gubbrud signed the wrong bill. Woster probably did not know that it was Sen. Hall who blew the whistle on this unlawful action. When Gubbrud’s error and Mydland’s questionable opinion were reported by The Associated Press, Sen. Bibby contacted Sen. Hall.

Sen. Hall was asked by Sen. Bibby to join a lawsuit to save the engineering school at SDSU. Sen. Hall joked with Sen. Bibby by telling him that he, Hall, had flunked out of engineering at SDSU. Actually, Hall had run out of college funds. Attorney George Mickelson was retained. The court ruled House Bill 766 was unconstitutional. Forever after, no attorney general could rule that “anything signed by the governor and four legislative officers would be law.”

So by January 1972, it became evident that Republicans and Democrats could work together. It was possible that reasonable ideas could be discussed in a reasonable manner, even if it was a court of law. This was one of the few actions that took place during Kneip’s first term that got the citizens of South Dakota to believe that the government could work for the people.

Years later when Sen. Hall’s brother, Harold Hall, Ph.D., of Fulton, was honored as a distinguished engineer, the actions of Sen. Hall were noted. Later, when Dr. Harold Hall was awarded an honorary doctorate at SDSU, Sen. Hall was honored.

The 1971-1972 legislative years led to the “golden years” of the 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976 sessions.

-Rod Hall, of Mitchell, is a former legislator and school board member.